Good afternoon and thank you for joining me as we continue with the third of four installments of the Restorative Table series exploring different themes in prayer and prayers function and form in our lives. Globally we are continuing to live into the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on us collectively.
This week, I am drawn to thinking about spiritual pilgrims, you, my friends and neighbors, people all over the world, who are preparing for or currently celebrating their religious holidays, centuries old traditions, now in new and different ways. For my Jewish friends, Passover began this past Wednesday and will last through next Thursday. My fellow Christians began celebrating our Holy Week yesterday which will culminate in our Easter Sunday celebration. Many of my Muslim friends are now preparing for Ramadan which begins on April 24th and considering what that celebration might look like in 2020. Throughout March, many holidays such as Hindu Holi, Sikh Hola Maholla and Ba’hai Naw Ruz were impacted by the rising pandemic. No one has been left untouched. This gives us an opportunity to shift our perspectives towards new ways of thinking and living into relationship with one another. This brings me to our topic this afternoon, a question really, “How do we understand the nature of God’s presence or Love in humility?”
These days have the potential to be deeply humbling. Merriam-Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride and arrogance. We might add that humility de-centers us. It has the power to turn us outward from ourselves and towards our neighbor.
Actor John Krasinski of The Office and Jack Ryan television series recently launched the Some Good News Network on YouTube. I suspect most of you have seen it, but I’ll include the link in the comments section of this post just in case. In his funny and poignant at-home broadcast, he features the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary acts of kindness in their communities. In his telecast, he bears witness to families sewing masks for healthcare workers; teachers and education professionals going the extra mile to keep children not only learning at home but also socially and emotionally supporting their families. I love these stories because in them I see Divine Love’s expression.
It makes us feel good to give to others whatever we have in time, talent and resources. Research cited by Jason Marsh and Jill Suttie at greatergood.berkley.edu suggest that the act of giving has direct health benefits acting as a kind of preventative medicine with significant impact on health, wealth and happiness. In times such as these, it is important to give and give generously.
However, I wonder, have you ever been on the other side of the giving? Have you ever needed to accept help from someone to feed or clothe your family when you could not provide for them yourself? Have you ever accepted a gift of any kind that meet need that you could not fulfill on your own? Perhaps a gift that you weren’t sure you could ever re-pay and perhaps were not even asked to do so? I know I have. If you have too, I ask you to take a moment to remember what that felt like.
It is humbling to receive a gift. Particularly if it is one of basic necessity, particularly if it is a gift you cannot repay. It is humbling to receive gifts of love and nurture, when we cannot love and nurture ourselves. Perhaps then we can consider that humility is not something we do, but simply part of the human experience in which we all participate. It is not us who are humble, but the circumstance of being human. Where might Divine Love be seen in this?
Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated Maunday Thursday through a ritual of mystical foot washing. I recently discovered in a conversation with a friend that foot washing is a ritual also found in the Hindu tradition. In the Christian tradition, the ritual is grounded in the story of Jesus who the night before he was betrayed, got up from the dinner table where he had been dining with his friends, removed his outer robe, got a bowl of water and proceeded to wash his friend’s feet. One of his friends and followers, Peter, balked at Jesus attempting to wash his feet. Jesus was the leader of their motley crew and Peter thought that it was beneath Jesus stature to wash his feet. Jesus responds saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” In this, Jesus sets the example of what it means to truly lead. The one who leads humbles oneself to serve others in the dirtiest, messiest of jobs. The one who serves is not greater than the one who receives nor is the one who receives greater than the one who serves. In this there is Spirit-filled mutuality in which Divine Love is present.
Ritual foot washing reminds us of our human need for relationship and acknowledgement that we all have a need that we cannot meet ourselves. This latter acknowledgement is what Martin Luther describes as humility, a being brought to nothingness and in that space of nothingness when we cannot do for ourselves, we receive Divine grace.
The experience of the ritual connects sacred Love with the everyday messiness of life and that which is Divine is humbly present in this. We are all invited to receive acceptance and grace and offer it to others in return.
So, you may be wondering how this relates to prayer and contemplation. Prayer in and of itself does not make one pious. Divine Love has already extended you a relationship in the everyday messiness and mundane. Prayer is a response to that Love, a conversation. As well, then, a prayer can take on many forms. When we intentionally connect Divine Love with the mundane, and messy tasks of life then those acts can become a prayer in and of themselves. Whether you are washing others feet, having yours’ washed, feeding, clothing and caring those around you or accepting the grace of being cared for and loved. With intentionality washing your dishes or weeding your lawn can act as a prayer. Divine love is present even in this.
Before we close with a prayer, I’d love to share a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel, theologian, poet and mystic, from I Asked for Wonder: “We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. In prayer, we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy. For when we betake ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God.”
Thank you so joining me today. We will close with a brief prayer. Please join me in assuming an attitude of prayer, whatever that looks like for you:
Humble God, you invite us to turn outward from ourselves and see the world through your holy mirror. As we continue to live into the global pandemic and all of its dimensions, those known and unknown, guide our footsteps on your solid ground. Today we pray for the world in need. Guide, comfort, heal and protect us all. Amen.